Kusazoshi Style Illustrated Pulp Books (草双紙)

Kusazoshi illustrated pulp books are a form of light popular literature of the Edo period with pictures taking centre stage supported by story outlines written in phonetic Japanese. Another genre of simple picture books called 'ezoshi' also existed. Most were targeted at children; however, in time some adult oriented versions were written which included plays on words and amusing stories.

Books were categorized as follows according to binding color and content:

Red Books
Produced in the early days of Kusazoshi style illustrated pulp books. The Kyoho era (1716-1736) was the heyday. From the Jokyo (1684-1688) and Genroku (1688-1704) eras to around the Horeki era (1751-1764). Books were produced in a half page size format consisting of five sheets in total.
Early on the books were slightly smaller than half page size and were known as 'little red books.'
Reading material for children. Many were given as new year gifts and content comprised of folktales with a strong instructive leaning such as Momotaro (Peach Boy), Tongue Cut Sparrow, Monkey Crab War, as well as picture stories etc. By and large these books were produced by artists such as Kiyomitsu TORII and Kiyoharu KONDO.

Black Books
They were called 'black books' from their black colored bindings. Contents varied and ranged widely: revenge, loyalty and martial stories, dramatic narrations, Kabuki and Noh stories, depictions written in phonetic Japanese kana syllabary, fairy tales, poignant stories etc. As a rule, all genres were covered. Often the writer and illustrator were one and the same. The two types of publication; red and black books had identical contents and were published simultaneously. Blue books became popular around the same time, but quickly fell out of fashion because the style was rough. They were published from the Eikyo era (1429 – 1441) in half sheet size five page (occasionally six) format in two or three pamphlets per installment. Readers being young boys and girls, blue books had more advanced content than red books and, from 1775 onwards only a small number were published.

Blue Books
It was by the bindings of amber (light green) books (described yellow as blue) that it could be discerned if story plots etc were written for boys or girls. They included: fairy tales, kabuki plots, dramatic recitatives and historical sagas. Around the same time, black books were also popular. The contents were similar, but their peak of popularity was during the Meiwa (1764-1772) and early Anei (1772-1781) eras. Gradually romance and racy themes emerged.

(A genre of yellow bound books for adults appeared however, at this time they were grouped together and called 'Blue Books.')

Yellow Bound Books

Books written for adults with an emphasis on entertainment. Besides the synopsis, these books were organized cover to cover by use of language and pictures to give pleasure as readers understood subtext messages not initially obvious. They had yellow colored bindings and were not differentiated at the time from blue books. Harumachi KOIKAWA's 1775 serialized story "Professor Kinkin's Dream of Splendor" is seen as a representative example of the yellow book genre. Later, the kusazoshi style illustrated pulp books pubished afterwards came to be called yellow bound books and differentiated from blue book genre. Dialogue balloons are utilized in creating images etc and they possess many of the techniques of expression that have carried through to modern day manga. Books were of lower grade pulp paper or better quality paper stock that was cut in half and folded, made into a format of five sheets per volume of which two or three of these volumes then made up one installment.
Some researchers regard these books published from 1775 to 1806 as 'yellow bound books.'

Gokan' Picture Books

Books began getting longer; until then books had been bound as 5 sheet publications, then units of ten sheets or otherwise 15 sheets making up one book.
(This format clearly emerged in 1806 with the publication of Sanba SHIKITEI's work "Ikazuchitaro Goaku Monogatari" (The saga of the villainous Taro Ikazuchi). Sanba is said to be the originator of the `Gokan` picture book genre.)
There were pictures but the content was comparable with a book meant solely for reading. When talking of kusazoshi style illustrated pulp books, 'Gokan' picture books are also singled out. Tanehiko RYUTEI's work "Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji" (Imposter Murasaki and Bumpkin Genji) are viewed as representative works in the genre. However, influenced by the Tenpo era (1841-1843) reforms, gaudy formats were prohibited for a time the style declined. However, due to these reforms, lewd images and erotic books were banned and, together with the decline of novels, the readers of novels switched over to 'Gokan' picture books leading to an increase in the number of titles published. Also, because of the impact of these reforms, the network of existing publishers collapsed and with this, emerging publishers were able to publish many 'Gokan' picture books.

With the coming of the the Meiji period (1868-1912), authors of 'Gokan' picture books were able to convert to publishing their writing in serialized format in newspapers and with that, a new body of readership was acquired. The lengthy romance genre became a fad. Furthermore, with the introduction of letterpress printing, the written word became more important than the graphics and besides this, there were changes such as massive growth of circulation etc.

[Original Japanese]